In April 2015, Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, Jr. was arrested and later died while in police custody. At the same time, similar incidents were happening around the country. In light of these events, there was a resurgence of discussions in the media and within local communities around race, identity and difference, police and community relations, and social and cultural inequalities. Baltimore was at the center of these discussions and for many, became the example of a city in turmoil. While community members, politicians and others grappled with the aftermath of these disturbing events, the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) was also receiving an increasing number of requests from community members and organizations who were looking for ways to process and heal and to understand and address the continuing impacts of structural racism.
In 2016, in response to this renewed focus on race relations in Baltimore, the University of Baltimore (UB) developed and offered a new course and series of community discussions entitled, Divided Baltimore: How Did We Get Here, Where Do We Go? Local high school and college students as well as Baltimore-area community members attended sessions led by various guest speakers to examine the history of racism and segregation and to explore the solutions for Baltimore moving forward.
After hearing about UB’s Divided Baltimore course, the MCCR approached the UB with an idea to create a joint program aimed at assisting individuals and organizations in Maryland to take a proactive approach to address the causes and impacts of racial, social and cultural divides. The program’s specific goals would be to assist program participants to more deeply understand systemic racism and inequality; to examine how to incorporate best practices for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into workplaces; and to develop leadership skills in employees who participate in the program.
In 2017, in a first-time collaborative partnership, MCCR and the UB Schaefer Center for Public Policy joined together to launch a 9-month pilot program. Current and emerging leaders from a mix of public, private and non-profit organizations were encouraged to apply to participate in the Maryland Equity and Inclusion Leadership Program’s (MEILP) inaugural year. The program involved monthly in-class sessions, interactive discussions, small group activities, self-reflection work, engaging guest speakers and facilitators, and a variety of out-of-class events. Participants were presented with information on the history and geography of inequities that impact individuals, workplaces, communities and groups. They were challenged to examine their own biases, engage deeply with one another and to build relationships and connections with one another for support, growth and learning. Based on what they were learning, participants were also asked to identify and develop a capstone project plan to address a specific DEI challenge within their respective organization and present that plan at the program graduation. The DEI project development and planning is a unique and tangible highlight of the program that asks participant not just to learn and listen, but to take their learning and put it in to action.
The 2017 inaugural MEILP class graduated 34 program participants who now form the foundation of our MEILP Alumni Network of Maryland-area professionals who are committed to taking what they learned in the program to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in their own workplaces, organizations and communities. The program launched its second class in 2019 and now runs on a yearly calendar cycle January through December.
Core Program Values
There are three core values that guide our program vision and purpose: